Genetic variation and population structure in Scandinavian wolverine (Gulo gulo) populations


Hans Ellegren. Fax: +46 18 4716310;


Wolverine (Gulo gulo) numbers in Scandinavia were significantly reduced during the early part of the century as a result of predator removal programmes and hunting. Protective legislation in both Sweden and Norway in the 1960s and 1970s has now resulted in increased wolverine densities in Scandinavia. We report here the development of 15 polymorphic microsatellite markers in wolverine and their use to examine the population sub-structure and genetic variability in free-ranging Scandinavian wolverine populations as well as in a sample of individuals collected before 1970. Significant subdivision between extant populations was discovered, in particular for the small and isolated population of southern Norway, which represents a recent recolonization. Overall genetic variability was found to be lower than previously reported for other mustelids, with only two to five alleles per locus and observed heterozygosities (HO) ranging from 0.269 to 0.376 across the examined populations, being lowest in southern Norway. Analysis of the mitochondrial DNA control region revealed no variation throughout the surveyed populations. As the historical sample did not show higher levels of genetic variability, our results are consistent with a reduction in the genetic variation in Scandinavian wolverines that pre-dates the demographic bottleneck observed during the last century. The observed subdivision between populations calls for management caution when issuing harvest quotas, especially for the geographically isolated south Norwegian population.